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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ulpotha, Sri Lanka: A Unique Retreat to Nature

Spending 2 weeks in an unspoiled lush canopy of green, hidden caves tucked within mountains and birds the color of Starbursts has me giddy with anticipation. Sri Lanka's beauty and Ulpotha's charm has me returning mid-November to offer yoga to students from all over the globe.

Similar to "glamping" (glamorous camping), Ulpotha is without Internet, electricity and except for the main house. Our haciendas are beautifully designed mud and grass huts all long narrow winding pathways all around the jungle property. All centered around an Ayurvedic center where the proceeds from treatments help support a clinic for local villagers.

Returning to nature and returning to self is the magnetic draw. The quiet stillness of the morning air as we enjoy local breakfast treats and fresh coconuts, followed by a luxurious in length therapeutic yoga class. Then, the day is designed by each person-- to rest, read a book in a hammock, enjoy a massage, experience authentic Ayurvedic treatments, swim, hike, bike, be alone or share time with new friends exploring? Anything seems possible. 2 beautiful meals each day are prepared with locally grown organic vegetables and rice which makes my mouth water recalling the delicious traditional spices used. Ending the day with another yoga session of either Thai yoga massage, fun partner yoga or a relaxing restorative session feels perfect.

Ulopotha, you beauty is vast. I cannot wait to see you again.

Join me?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Yoga Therapy and Restorative Yoga

 "Real, lasting change usually begins with discomfort and 
ends with joy and respect for oneself." 
Nicolai Bachman
Just completed leading 7 days of yoga therapy and restorative yoga 7 at Yogshakti Teacher Training in Kuala Lumpur with 18 beautiful teachers from around the world yesterday. The biggest joy was watching each one of them expand their heart-mind, begin to grasp challenging anatomy and to integrate what they've learned as they practiced teaching with each other. 
Yoga therapy is a holistic approach to yoga that makes the practice accessible, self healing, and facilitates injury prevention. It's a process of discovering what works for you as the student and teacher. Combined with intention and clear direction, we learn how to skillfully recognize a student's needs by drawing on our intuition, experiences and awareness of what's happening now in a student's body. Poses can be Active (therapeutic) for learning more functional movement or they can be restful and restorative to promote relaxation and recuperation. 
Restorative yoga uses props as adaptations of traditional yoga postures in a passively supported way by filling any space between the student's body and the floor. The focus is not on stretching but rather releasing tension, increasing circulation, bringing comfort and cultivating stillness while noticing the breath. 

"I liked the way Melissa explained Anatomy as a functional yoga applied method. I loved all the teaching tools she offered for each pose with props, alternatives and other ways to see things."

"Melissa, thank you so much for a wonderful Yoga Therapy training. I have really enjoyed the group and the learning and feel so much more knowledgable in anatomy and postural assessment and of my own body's strengths and compensations. The restorative yoga sessions have been great and after struggling a bit to see how to integrate the yoga therapy approach into my practice and teaching, it now all seems to have fallen into place. With a big happy hug!" 

"I really enjoyed going through the set up and exploration of restorative poses and also working with my peers on the postural and yoga therapy assessments. The group energy and sharing, mantras and meditations were also highlights in this training for me."

"For me it was very useful to learn how to use props correctly for specific situations and to be able to make yoga accessible to all. Yoga Therapy will be a great addition to my personal experience and teaching." 

Email here for more info on the next Yoga Therapy training in Texas, Thailand or Malaysia.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

I sure love you.

Once buzzed in, I walked past the fish tank on the left when an unusually foul smell assaulted me from the bathroom tucked to the right of the corridor and revealed a half naked woman wrestling with a caregiver. 

I moved quickly through the next room where Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart were talking flirtively in black and white. Passed a silver haired shrunken woman in a blue top shuffling by while wringing her hands and stopped short as I turned the next corner and caught glimpse of her.

Marcee, August 2013
Seated in a simple striped shirt and usual smart jeans that gaped from her recent weight loss, she gazed out the window with her now dulled blue-brown speckled eyes. She didn't move to look at me as I sat down. 

I reached for her hand tentatively. Would she be upset by the unfamiliar touch? 

'Hi Marcee,' I said. 

We sat for a while, and I tried hard to get her to laugh or even look at me. I performed silly faces and talked out loud to her in what she must have interpreted as gibberish. It felt like chattering to someone who's ignoring you, only I knew she simply wasn't comprehending. Anything. 

A heavy emptiness fell between us. 

In desperation to connect, I reached to rub her shoulder as my dad suggested that she seemed to respond to his touch. Hopeful she'd acknowledge mine, too. She didn't seem to notice. 

Curious if she would sing along, I played the entire album from Diana Krall's greatest hits, one of her favorite jazz singers. My hopes were raised with a few fleeting moments of humming and the tapping of her foot to the beat. 

Peel me a grape, a song that used to make me giggle when I was younger, came on. Smiling through pooling tears, I leaned over and said, 'I sure love you.'

Marcee, August 2014
Suddenly her words, which up to this point were incoherent, were as clear as the song itself. 'You do?' she asked. 

I managed to whisper, 'Yes. Yes, I do.' 

Alzheimer’s is an insidious disease that slowly unravels the mind and the self. It shakes families to the core, and forces them to adapt in smart and meaningful ways. These four short documentary films explore that process. I recently watched A Place Called Pluto and was reminded of my step mother, Marcee's early stages of Alzheimer's. How she knew she had the disease, and yet couldn't quite articulate it as well as award-winning journalist Greg O’Brien can. She is now in the last stages of Alzheimer's. Everyone is unrecognizable to her, and she is completely incontinent and in need of help to eat.

Reading O'Brien's story is like diving into what must have been her thoughts, her fears, and her rage when this journey first began. The curse and the blessing of this is: she is a shell of a body with so little of her once vivacious personality left, and yet she no longer knows she has the disease. 

For the caregivers, for my father... my heart aches. For the ones embodying this disease, I simply pray the quality of life left will be full of dignity and ease. 

More than 5 million Americans are living with this disease. To make a difference, please get involved.

Marcee & me, August 2014

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

breath inside the breath

" 'Take your eyes away from the needle. Slow your breath, baby. Take a slow, long sip of air and exhale longer," I tell my 8 year old son who is undergoing chemo for tumor in his arm. Using imagination and breathing has helped his anxiety and calmed his butterfly stomach each week. On weeks where he doesn't focus on breathing, he often throws up before we even start treatment."

This is my yoga. The breath inside the breath."

Read more on Yoga Vibes:

Sunday, August 17, 2014

To Rest

The human brain is a glutton, constantly demanding 20 percent of all the energy the body produces. It's no wonder with all the digital impact we live with that we can never seem to turn it off. Unless of course, we need to recall something critical during a test or make an important quick decision. Or when we are in love, our wisdom and intuitive part of our brain appears to have hit the pause button. 

Oh the crazed choices I have made when love induced dopamine gave me a feeling of euphoria and clouded my senses. Over time though, that fortunately fades and the wisdom body kicks in. Suddenly, I realize how damn tired I am. How I have been spinning my wheels to please others or even a passionate attempt at doing what I love: yoga. 

Many things are good but there are paths that are more soul-quenching than others. 

I think I've found it within Rest.

"To rest is not self indulgent, to rest is to prepare to give the best of ourselves, and perhaps, most importantly, arrive at a place where we are able to understand what we have already been given."

Rest is an essential part of healthy brain function. In order to function optimally, at our best, we all have to have it. When life, kids or work demands I wake up and my body is not rested, I feel drained. I reach for things like coffee or plunge into naps at odd hours just to keep up. When I travel abroad, I'm usually so fatigued that I can sleep the entire 17 hour first flight. Entirely. Now that's tired. 

Lack of rest and adequate sleep can cause depression, weight gain, dull your brain, age your skin, health problems, disinterest in sex, and increase your risk of death. We all know the end of our story, but wouldn't it be a gift to ourselves and certainly to those we love to prolong our life by getting the rest our body is craving?

“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer's day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.” ~John Lubbock

Now home in Asia after months of traveling, I'm coming back to a routine of nurturing myself. Catching up on work emails, yes, but also making time for quiet, writing, a realistic yoga asana and pranayama practice, my kids, or just simply walking the dog without my phone. And, of course, sleep. Just doing life at it's normal rhythm without forcing things or over scheduling. Creating space for Rest.

From my favorite author and poet, Davide Whyte. He shares his definition of rest which resonates with my desire to return to inner stillness, breath and feeling whole again.

"REST is the conversation between what we love to do and how we love to be. Rest is the essence of giving and receiving. Rest is an act of remembering, imaginatively and intellectually but also physiologically and physically. To rest is to give up on the already exhausted will as the prime motivator of endeavor, with its endless outward need to reward itself through established goals. To rest is to give up on worrying and fretting and the sense that there is something wrong with the world unless we are there to put it right; to rest is to fall back literally or figuratively from outer targets and shift the goal not to an inner static bulls eye, an imagined state of perfect stillness, but to an inner state of natural exchange.
The template of natural exchange is the breath, the autonomic giving and receiving which is the basis and the measure of life itself. We are rested when we are a living exchange between what lies inside and what lies outside, when we are an intriguing conversation between the potential that lies in our imagination and the possibilities for making that internal image real in the world; we are rested when we let things alone and let ourselves alone, to do what we do best, breathe as the body intended us to breathe, to walk as we were meant to walk, to live with the rhythm of a house and a home, giving and taking through cooking and cleaning. When we give and take in this easy foundational way we are closest to the authentic self, and closest to that self when we are most rested. To rest is not self indulgent, to rest is to prepare to give the best of ourselves, and perhaps, most importantly, arrive at a place where we are able to understand what we have already been given."

Monday, July 21, 2014


From my favorite poet, David Whyte.

It doesn’t interest me if there is one God 
or many gods.
I want to know if you belong or feel 
if you can know despair or see it in others.
I want to know
if you are prepared to live in the world
with its harsh need
to change you. If you can look back
with firm eyes,
saying this is where I stand. I want to know
if you know
how to melt into that fierce heat of living,
falling toward
the center of your longing. I want to know
if you are willing
to live, day by day, with the consequence of love
and the bitter
unwanted passion of your sure defeat.

I have heard, in that fierce embrace,
even the gods speak of God.

From RIVER FLOW: New and Selected Poems
© David Whyte and Many Rivers Press

His note about this poem: Oriah took her work 'The Invitation', from this poem, which had been written many years before, after she had participated in a workshop I gave in Toronto, in which I used Self Portrait as an exercise in which people were asked to write their own versions. For reasons known only to herself, Oriah failed to attribute it. DW

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A family history

Visiting my father in Santa Fe, New Mexico this month. My dad turned 72 last year, me 42. For the first time, I have felt his keen awareness of his impermanence. While his overall health is good, he's teetering along the delicate balance of family, dogs and house responsibilities. Thankfully, he seems happier than in many years.
He pulled out all the family photos from the days when we actually developed our pictures. Culling through them, there are many of me as a child, his wife, Marcee, of over 25 years who is in full time care for Alzheimer's, and images all the many trips taken over the years with and without me. Some older ones I haven't yet riffled through. So I will begin to add some of my favorites here. 
Many of the photos of Marcee and Dad capture the spirit of their friendship and love while expose their passion for their pets and flirtation with travel with friends and some side trips taken when my dad's job allowed him to travel. I remember him to be a bit of a high achiever. But also to have a strong curiosity for the world - just like his lust for books and music. 
Andrew today, photo of me at age 4 or 5
Nathan today, photo of me age 12
Me, when dad lived in Chicago, around 1977
Me, 1978 or '79
Circa 1978
Longwood gardens, 5th grade  

Dad & me, 4th grade, age 10 ( first pair of glasses)
Mamo, Dad's mom, age 21, 1939
Marie Thoma married Prentice White, 37 in 1941 at age 23. 

Marcee, March 1972
Marcee, 1968

Marcee, Devon, Penn circa1980
Me with Marcee, 4th of July 1987

Marcee, Washington 1987
Dad, early 1980
Dad, 1987

La Madera, NM '80's

Marcee, Phuket 1991
Thailand 1991
Dad, Taj Mahal 1991
Mamo and Granddad Carol, Santa Fe 1992
Mamo and me 1992
Dad and me 1993
Ghost Ranch, 1989